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Nurturing self-directed learners

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Nurturing self-directed learners

The workings of the modern classroom have changed considerably since I was a student in school. More than ever, today’s teachers are trying to encourage students to become increasingly self-directed learners – demonstrating greater independence and responsibility in their studies. The reasons are plentiful, and are backed up by research showing that self-directed learners exhibit higher levels of motivation, engagement, and ultimately success! In fact, some high schools now offer totally self-directed programs – allowing students greater flexibility in how, when, and what they study. But how does one become a self-directed learner? It’s basically a four-step process.

Being Ready To Learn. One of the first steps is to assess students’ existing skill sets and identify both their strengths as well as any areas that may still require development to support greater independence. Signs of readiness might include being: organized, autonomous, self-disciplined, an effective communicator, and able to engage in self-reflection and evaluation. You want discover and develop skills that will help reduce the traditional reliance on teachers to constantly guide and tell them what and how to do things.

Setting Goals. The degree to which this is done will vary by age – with older students perhaps being asked to set goals for an entire unit of study. This might include the structure and sequence of activities, a timeline, required materials, and their thoughts on how they should be assessed. Younger students, however, could be asked to set specific goals around smaller tasks or assignments. For example, a Grade 4 student might develop a plan on how they wish learn their times tables – taking into account things like their preferred learning style, strategies they know work for them, and their existing supports (e.g. parents, friends, teachers).

Becoming Aware and Engaged. As mentioned in the example above, the better students understand themselves as learners, the more successful they will be. Formal assessments can aid in the growth of this self-awareness, but so too can informal assessments such as getting them to reflect on questions like: How do I learn best? What strategies work best when I study? What things distract me? How can/do I use my strengths, interests, and talents to help me learn?

Evaluating Your Learning. An essential part to achieving any goal is the ability to reflect on your progress to date. Self-directed learners are no different – they must be able to reflect and evaluate their performance so that small course corrections can be made on their learning journey. Questions might include: How will I know when I’ve learned enough? How will I know when I am off-course, lost, or need to ask for help? How can I tell how I’m doing?

Regardless of your children’s current ages or grades, I encourage you to do what you can to help them become more independent and self-directed learners. After all, these skills will not only help them be more successful now, but also in college/university, and in their careers to come.

Have feedback, or a topic you would like to see addressed? Add your voice to the YCG Community Group on Facebook, or email Rob directly at